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Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Callahan Chronicals: pt 4 Callahan's Secret by Spider Robinson

Other discussions of The Callahan Chronicals:
  1. pt 1 Callahan's Crosstime Saloon
  2. pt 2 Callahan's Crosstime Saloon
  3. Time Travelers Strictly Cash 

Summaries and Commentaries with spoilers:

  • The Blacksmith’s Tale: First appeared in Analog. When no one is at the bar (a strange new staircase has appeared),  Jake ascends to stand naked in the rain on the rooftop. He runs into Mary--also standing naked in the rain--and, after uncomfortable pleasantries, makes love. They join the regulars below. Mick Finn is glum, not having a lover himself.
Commentary: Mary offers herself to the alien bot, to Jake's chagrin. Mary is Callahan's daughter. Mick Finn's story begins with "The Man with the Eyes" and "Unnatural Causes." It concludes with "The Mick of Time" below.
  • Pyotr’s StoryFirst appeared in Analog. Reprinted by Greg Cox, T. K. F. Weisskopf, Stefan R. Dziemianowicz, Robert Weinberg and Martin H. Greenberg. Jake mourns the loss of his girl. Because of the last story, we assume it's Mary, but no, it's his guitar. He mourns the loss as it was a rarity. The only man who could work on it is dead. Meanwhile, Pyotr selflessly cares for drunks. And it's Jake's turn as he mourns and gets sloshed. But Jake, who normally doesn't get hungover, is. Are Pyotr's motives pure?
Commentary: Eddie kidnaps Domingo Montoya, master guitarist who is supposedly dead. He has been hiding because people ask him to repair their cut-rate guitars. But he does Jake's. Pyotr, as you may have guessed from the sore neck, turns out to be a vampire. He filters Callahan regulars' blood, often preventing hangovers, but Jake's metabolism is different. When discovered, the regulars take up a collection--blood.

This plays a nice contrast to "Mirror/rorriM" where a character is suspected to be a vampire, but is not.
    • Involuntary Man’s LaughterFirst appeared in Analog. Try as they might, Callahan's regulars can't help laughing at a young man, Billy Walker, Tourette's syndrome--even as they cry in sympathy. Billy tried to call, looking for his place in life, but they thought it was a crank call. He sent a letter to show how serious he is.
    Commentary: They place Billy in charge of riddles on riddle night via computer modem. Robinson seems to understand human foibles due to nature. Despite sympathy and the regulars' desire to help everyone, he might have gotten an earful. 
      • The Mick of TimeFirst appeared in Analog. It was up for the Analog Readers Poll award. Mick Finn is sedated just as his masters arrive in the solar system. Callahan and the regulars join minds to feign that they exceed the Masters' power. But as they think faster, they see through the sham and isolate each mind from the others.
      Commentary: Callahan is a time-traveler himself and uses this to think up a solution. He pulls the regulars out of their mental isolation (literal and figurative). They detonate a nuclear bomb with a newly conscious Mick Finn to shield them from the blast. They save the day, but this blows up the bar. The Callahans must leave, and Jake is put in charge of the bar. They realize that Calahan has been training the regulars to be empathic/telepathic.

      This is the collection's high point that wraps up everything, albeit on a few sad notes. It may not work well alone but rests on the stories that went before. I say this because it seems one of the stronger tales in the collection, yet only Analog readers gave it a nod. Maybe they have longer memories.
        Series Commentary:
        "The Mick of Time" is where I'll end. The next story isn't really a story, so let's skip it. Interestingly, though, the author does make an appearance, just as he does in some illustrations. See hatted and sun-glassed figure raising his beer to the right.

        These stories do a good job stitching together relationships developed in earlier stories into something more complex, into something that feels like a novel. The characters get a little more personal, their thread weaving together more with the other characters in Callahan's.

        The stories are often dual plots, the taste of which we got in "Fivesight" where Jake and other characters told parallel tales.

        Taken as a complete series, as happened in Starseed and Starmind, one witnesses Robinson's perfect society, just on a smaller scale. The picture here has a little more clarity since we spend most of our time inside the society.

        It does seem ideal--empathy, acceptance of other's flaws so long as they attempt change ("Unnatural Causes")--but is this somewhat akin to our internet cliques where one is embraced, groups supported financially and verbally while "evil-doers" are bullied into submission? sometimes even to the detriment of careers. Robinson's is gentler. Even when criminals are hauled away--the faux Santa alien in "Have You Heard the One...?"--they don't punish him. Still, I couldn't help but feel that they overreacted to the minor swindler, when they often accepted those with worse crimes. Perhaps Callahan's isn't exactly perfect, but it's better than the society at present.

        Some folks want more and more: The quality can change--just keep 'em coming. Some want the pure quill, the best of the best. The completists, the former group, have their book. For the latter group,  I offer the essential or classic Callahan stories:

        1. The Guy with the Eyes
        2. The Time-Traveler
        3. Two Heads Are Better Than One
        4. Unnatural Causes
        5. Fivesight
        6. Dog Day Evening
        7. Have You Heard the One ... ?
        8. Mirror/rorriM, Off the Wall
        9. The Blacksmith's Tale
        10. Pyotr's Story
        11. The Mick of Time 

        * If "A Voice Is Heard in Ramah ... " were expounded/expanded upon, throw it in here, too.

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